Mamata Banerjee, the eternal street fighter, showed the moves of an astute politician as she pulled the plug on UPA-II last week. For Didi, this political divorce was an important move made necessary by the upcoming Panchayat polls in West Bengal. The grassroots polls are meant to be the final feather in the Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief’s hat of victories. And in such a crucial juncture, she couldn’t risk to seem “anti-people”. In the state itself the TMC seems to be still riding high on the wave of victory and would need no help from the Congress to ensure political wins in the Panchayat polls or the next Lok Sabha elections. Not only did these thoughts drive her recent decision, she also launched vitriolic attacks on the Congress to justify her estrangement from a party that was against the ‘Ma, Mati, Manush’ ethos of the TMC.
In the last 16 months as the West Bengal Chief Minister, Banerjee has assumed the role of the nouveau Left. The comrades themselves, having become marginalised in both the national and state political scene, have watched grudgingly as the firebrand leader usurped the Left’s pet issues one by one, hoping to eat into its vote-share. The political chatterati may criticise Banerjee but the state’s masses, having known the Left regime for 34 years, has comfortably settled into Didi’s Left ideology.
While severing ties with the UPA may translate into political gains for Banerjee, it hardly augurs well for the economic fortunes of the state. West Bengal can very well bid adieu to the bailout package from the Centre which was to help it tide over the debt burden left behind by the previous regime. Didi can also kiss goodbye to her demand of a three-year moratorium on Rs 22,000 crore of annual interest payment on the state’s debt.
Almost all the railway projects in the state, sanctioned by Banerjee and Mukul Roy as railways ministers, lie in jeopardy. In all her public rallies, Banerjee had emphatically declared that the state was to get 16 railway factories; needless to say, their future now remains uncertain. The DEMU coach manufacturing factory in Haldia, the 1,420 MW power plant with National Thermal Power Corporation at Adra, the diesel locomotive factory at Dankuni and the railway wagon and components factory with Steel Authority of India Ltd and Burn Standard Company Ltd at Jellingham, near Nandigram, are a few of those that are shrouded in improbability. A coach factory on 600 acres of land in Singur, earlier allotted for the Tata Nano project and the Eastern Freight Corridor from Dankuni to Sonnagar, also seems a distant possibility. “Senior TMC leaders like Saugata Roy, Kunal Ghosh, Subrata Mukherjee and Debabrata Bandopadhyay had tried to reason with her (Banerjee) at the meeting to decide on withdrawal of support. They felt that it would be better to quit the Union government but remain in the alliance considering the ongoing developmental, industrialisation and railways projects in the state. But the rest of the leaders advocated the pull-out keeping Panchayat polls and more upcoming big bang reforms in mind,” said a TMC leader.
The state capital too will feel the pinch with several ongoing Metro Rail projects in the danger of getting stalled or delayed. The East-West Metro link, upgradation of the existing North-South link, the Joka-BBD line, Noapara-Airport-Barasat line, Noapara-Dakshineswar-Barrackpore line and New Garia-Airport line could see little action in the coming days.
In this scenario, it’s the state that is emerging as the biggest loser. And the only way to salvage the situation is if the new railways minister is chosen from among Bengal Congress MPs. The West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee has already written to Congress President Sonia Gandhi demanding “proportionate and adequate representation of West Bengal in the Union Council of Ministers”. If the Bengal unit’s demand for at least three ministers is answered, then the state can at least breathe a sigh of relief; albeit the ‘pariborton’ (change) and ‘unnayan’ (development) would now be driven by the Congress and not Didi.